Tom McDonald

Dr Tom McDonald

Associate Professor

9.14, 9/F., The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus


I am a media anthropologist dedicated to using ethnographic engagement to achieve a richer understanding of how digital technologies, media and material culture come to mediate ongoing transformations in the communicative practices, economic behaviours, social relationships and human subjectivities of people in China and beyond. I joined the HKU Department of Sociology in August 2015. Prior to this I was a Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, University College London.

My research increasingly focuses on economic concerns, reflecting the rapid convergence between digital money and media in China and the wider world. I have recently completed two major projects in this area. The first concerns the adoption of digital payment and consumer finance platforms and their impact in shaping financial subjectivities. The second examines the potential of digital money in facilitating everyday cross-boundary money transactions.

I am currently in the early stages of a new project examining how NFTs are transforming processes of collection, exchange and production in the Hong Kong art market.

Courses taught


PhD Anthropology
University College London

MRes Anthropology
University College London

BSc Anthropology
University College London

Research interests

Digital money
Social media

Current research

Facilitating everyday cross-border monetary transactions and the potential of digitisation in the Greater Bay Area (Principal Investigator, Hong Kong SAR Government Policy Innovation and Co-Ordination Office, Public Policy Research Funding Scheme)

Learning and assessment for digital citizenship (Co-Investigator, Hong Kong Research Grants Council Collaborative Research Fund)

Honours and recognitions


HKU Faculty of Social Sciences, Research Output Award for Basic Research (2019-20)

HKU Early Career Teaching Award (2018)

HKU Faculty of Social Sciences, Outstanding Teaching Award (2017-18)

Selected publications

Journal articles:

McDonald, T., & Chow L. (2023). Data by design: Shaping data-producing subjectivities through self-tracking. The Information Society.

Rao, Y., & McDonald, T. (2023). Debt at a distance: Counter-collection strategies and financial subjectivities of China’s working-class defaulters during COVID-19. Economy and Society. 52 (2), 250-273,

McDonald, T. & Li, D. (2022). “Pulling the sheep’s wool”: The labour of online thrift in a Chinese factory. Journal of Consumer Culture. 22 (2), 398-416.

McDonald, T. & Horst, H. (2021). Introduction: Imaginaries of Asian Media Infrastructures. Media International Australia. 181 (1), 3-6.

McDonald T., Shum H. H-K., Wong R. (2021). Payments in the pandemic: orchestrating and imagining cross-boundary digital money infrastructures in China during COVID-19. Media International Australia. 181 (1), 44-56.

McDonald, T. & Guo, Y. (2021). “What would happen if you can’t see your money?”: Visibility and the emergent infrastructures of digital money storage in China. New Media and Society. 23 (4), 715-731.

McDonald, T. & Li, D. (2020). Alipay’s ‘Ant Credit Pay’ meets China’s factory workers: The depersonalisation and re-personalisation of online lending. Journal of Cultural Economy. 14 (1), 87-100.

McDonald, T. (2020). ‘Social’ money and working-class subjectivities: Digital money and migrant labour in Shenzhen, China. The China Quarterly. 242, 397-417.

McDonald, T. (2019). Strangership and social media: Moral imaginaries of gendered strangers in rural ChinaAmerican Anthropologist. 121 (1), 76-88.

Miller, D., et al. (2019). Contemporary comparative anthropology – The Why We Post project. Ethnos. 84 (2), 283-300.

McDonald, T. (2016). Senses, sociality and salons: Medicinal hospitality in a Chinese hair-dresser’s salon. Ethnos, 81 (2), 189-213.

Chan, J.H., et al. (2016). The role of self-gentrification in sustainable tourism: Indigenous entrepreneurship at Honghe Hani Rice Terraces World Heritage Site, ChinaJournal of Sustainable Tourism. 24 (8-9), 1262-1279.

McDonald, T. (2015). Affecting relations: domesticating the internet in a south-western Chinese town. Information, Communication & Society, 18 (1), 17-31.

McDonald, T. (2011). “Cowboy Cloth” and kinship: The closeness of denim consumption in a south-west Chinese city. Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, 9 (1), 76-89.


McDonald, T. (2016). Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks. London: UCL Press.

Miller, D., et al. (2016). How the World Changed Social Media. London: UCL Press.

Book chapters:

McDonald, T., Shum, H. H. K., Wong, K. C. (2022). ‘Mediated money and social relationships among Hong Kong cross-boundary students’. In Costa, E., P. G. Lange, N. Haynes, J. Sinanan (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Media Anthropology. London: Routledge. 301-313.

McDonald, T., et al. (2018). ‘Negotiating the ethics of gendered online spaces in Mainland China and Hong Kong’. In Iphofen, R and M. Tolich (eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research Ethics. London: Sage. 526-539.

McDonald, T. & Sinanan, J. (2017). ‘Ethnography’. In Burgess, J., A. Marwick and T. Poell (eds), The Sage Handbook of Social Media, London: Sage. 179-195.

McDonald, T., Nicolescu, R., & Sinanan, J. (2017). ‘Small places turned inside out: social networking in small communities’. In Hjorth, L., H. Horst, A. Galloway and G. Bell (eds), The Routledge Companion to Digital Ethnography, London: Routledge. 89-101.

McDonald, T. (2015). ‘Desiring mobiles, desiring education: mobile phones and families in a rural Chinese Town‘. In S. S. Lim (Ed.), Mobile Communication and the Family: Asian Experiences in Technology Domestication. Dordrecht: Springer. 13-32.

See all publications in HKU Scholars Hub →